A random tax-return purchase led Eli Warren to find a full-time job and lifelong hobby.
Years ago, Warren bought a camera on a whim after some convincing from a friend. Now, he works out of his studio in the Greenville Center for Creative Arts as a commercial, editorial, and fine-art photographer.
“I didn’t know the first thing about cameras,” he says. “Like I didn’t know anything, but it just sort of resonated as soon as I got it.”
Although drawn to art all his life, Warren never found a medium that fit him — until he gave photography a shot. “I slowly started reading every book I could and learning,” Warren says.
Primarily a self-taught photographer with the exception of a darkroom class, Warren enjoys the variety his work brings.
“For paid work, I like that it’s so varied and everybody’s different. Every shoot is a different challenge,” he says. “But for my personal work, I like being able to use it to express how I feel.”
Warren considers his personal work somewhat of a visual journal. “I think if you look over the years at my photos you can see kind of what mindset I was in,” he says.
Mostly shooting portraits, Warren enjoys the challenge of working with people.
“I’m really introverted and I feel like I have a hard time connecting with people,” he says. “I feel like it’s my way of bridging that gap and learning about people and challenging myself to make it work.”
How he shoots his personal work differs from his paid work. “I’m shooting on probably a 50-year-old 4-by-5 view camera that shoots these big sheets of film,” he says.
While shooting up to 300 frames on digital, Warren limits himself to only 10 frames with the view camera.
“Ten takes a while because it’s a really slow process,” he says. “It’s been nice because it just slows me down and I think out each image.”
Now, Warren shoots all personal work on the view camera. “I needed something that was mine,” he says. “I just connected to it really fast after I did it. I just wanted something that was me.”
Loving the hands-on process and the large film’s natural depth, Warren develops the film in a way that adds an extra grainy quality. “All my work is supposed to be imperfect and gritty, so I think it helps with that.”
Warren’s current personal project aims to evoke certain emotions without explicitly showing them. “It’s supposed to be about different challenges,” he says. “Lately, I’ve been trying to show people how that feels.”